Excerpt from Odd Spine & The Emptiness (a work in progress) formerly known as The Eight Leaves
This is an essay about writing a lyric personal essay on the mystery of faith as it involves the interaction of a curious mind. There will be many similes and metaphors because the essayist likes to use them, but also because in dealing with personal abstractions, the essayist wanted to ensure that some concrete entity stand in for illustrative purposes. The essay itself is a metaphor of the mystery of faith as it involves the interaction of a curious mind. Or rather, the essay had been a metaphor of this mystery—but not now, not what follows; revision is for the pragmatists.
First, the reader might benefit from understanding the origins of the essay. Plainly, the reader should know an essay, in the strictest sense, rambles and meanders, much like the mind of the essayist flittering over subjects, turning them over, before moving onto to the next. Sometimes there are connections in these kinds of essays, sometimes not. Essay comes from the French word “essai,” which means to try, to put to a test (interestingly this is what those involved with serious faith inquiry do as well; the essayist likes this). The first to undertake such a feat was Michel de Montaigne. His full name was Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne. His family had land, and in 1571 following a career in law retired to the family estate. There, he wrote his essays which were later collection and published as Essais in 1580. While some consider Montaigne the father of the modern essay-writing, others attribute this title to Roman playwright Lucius Annaeus Seneca who wrote Latin tragic drama. Seneca was born in Spain in 4 B.C. He too was a lawyer. He, the essayist means Seneca, was forced out of the courts by way of exile decreed by Emperor Caligula only to be returned to Rome following Caligula’s death. Back in Rome, Seneca served as tutor to Emperor Nero’s son. Powerful and brilliant, Seneca wrote plays, adapted from the works of Greek playwrights, and philosophical commentaries. It’s Seneca’s Moral Essay which helps to garner the Spaniard the title of essay’s father. The essayist has already begun to ramble, meander off topic.
The topic of this essay is a personal reflection on the mystery of faith and its many manifestations. Notice the essayist uses not the exact phrasing as before. That phrasing was: “This is an essay about writing a lyric personal essay on the mystery of faith as it involves the interaction of a curious mind,” just to remind those who need it. The variation is a requirement of good writing, to showcase the ability to reiterate, but not repeat oneself. This is not to say the personal essay, of the lyric kind, does not engage in repetitiveness. The personal essay repeats itself, because ultimately it wants to out of sheer laziness; no! The repetition is part of its lyricism, its music if you will, its poetic heart perhaps. Repeating a sound is music. Lyric personal essays are more musical than the other form of personal essays—the narrative personal essay.
The narrative personal essay (note the transition the essayist employs to move the reader from one paragraph to the next, this is odd, thinks the essayist given that this is not a chronological essay, but rather a rambling, meandering lyrical expression. Irony: Might be off-putting to the pragmatists.) is told chronologically, more like a traditional story with a beginning, middle and an end. The lyric personal essay, by way of comparison, is not straight-forward; it’s more of a collage, a sampling of a story from all over the spectrum of possibilities. Some lyric personal essays will begin at a beginning, so to speak, but will quickly move from this locale, this time, so as to not sound, or look, like a narrative personal essay, which it is clearly not. So, while the essayist may begin with a childhood memory, it should be noted that the memory is a reflection of a moment in time lost forever.
So the essayist writes: “Outside my window light and shadows mingle.” This is the opening line of the lyric personal essay. It’s meant to, yes, engage the reader; hook them as any Freshman English professor will, well, profess, but also to serve as the opening gambit, the introductory image that serves the essay in its entirety. For some it is the key that unlocks the box; it is the answer to the riddle; it’s a hint—the essay that follows will examine light and darkness, two opposing forces, which must, simply must, co-exist for the other to exist at all (this guiding principle will be the main thrust of the essay, that one cannot exist without the other). The essayist writes this opening line in order to set the record straight, right from the beginning. After all, how could there be shadow without something, a light perhaps!?!, it silhouettes; it is produced by something—the sun! The sentence ends with the most important information, as most good, efficient sentences do. The opening line ends with mingle—why? It suggests interaction, and with interaction, says the lyric personal essay essayist, we have communication—the very thing the essay is to the reader.
So the essayist writes: “Focusing I can almost make out a pattern.” Notice the “I.” This is the essayist’s first direct identification. The “my” in the first sentence is not a statement on the essayist’s psychology, but rather speaks of ownership. The “I” however, directly refers to an inner entity. This is key for lyricism—there must be an “I” in order to create an interaction with a “You,” the reader. As there must be light for there to be shadow; there must be a “You” for there to be an “I.” The essayist could at this point ramble onto the work of Martin Buber or a comparison between Buber and Jean-Paul Sartre, but then the essayist would have to introduce Martin Heidgger—the ramble would go on for days taking away from the essay’s main purpose—to reflect on the mystery of faith. So: the essayist does something quite unexpected to the reader, but very much in line with the hallmarks of a meandering essai. The essayist mentions not the “pattern,” of the earlier sentence, nor the “I,” but instead switches from an internal musing to the external world.
The line goes: “Cicadas’ susurrant sonata rises.” Sometimes the essayist makes a mistake. This might be an example of trying too hard to have language acquire the lilt of music. It’s a little jarring, perhaps, but at the same time interesting—no? But to some readers “cicadas,” might be too unfamiliar. “Susurrant,” is a favorite word of the essayist, but to most readers it will mean a quick trip to the reference stacks. “Sonata,” works because the line is an attempt at music. “Rises,” works too, because the sound rises to the ear, but the word itself is not an alliteration of the preceding S-words, so the music is cut a little short there. In the end, the line might have to be reworked. “The sound of insects buzzing in the trees rose to my ears.” That works, but is less lyrical, not as close to iambic pentameter as the first attempt. To the essayists attempting the lyric personal essay truth might have to conform to music more so than the other way around, but sometimes practicality beckons. Ditch the iambic for the guttural. (Count the beats of that last line. Essayist should hide some things as pleasantries). And regardless of sweet sounding words (cellar door) never forget the need for story. To wit—a narrative grounded in here that recalls the back then.
The essayist attempts to bring the reader to the moment of the composition’s creation: “The heat will soar today and looking carefully waves will appear above the hot asphalt.” Giving the metrological not only grounds the essay in a time and place, it gives a sense of the ephemeral, which the essayist also alludes to by introducing the image of heat waves hovering over asphalt. But the essayist must not dilly-dally. Back to the main thrust, as it were. “I have always enjoyed staring out windows. When I was a child growing up in northern winters, frosted windowpanes drew my fascination. With rapt attention, I would stare at the intricate designs ice would produce on the glass. Delicate and beautiful the crystallized patterns defied explanation. Were these frosty stars and hoary gyroscopes always there in the air, but only revealed when the temperatures dropped? Was their place on the field of frost haply wrought or positioned, just right, purposefully? If I squinted could I see where the artist’s signature was? Spider webs come from spiders so who produced these ice mandalas?” Okay an extended excerpt without annotation, but this is exactly what the reader will experience—a sense of wonder, hopefully; a need to know. Notice the essayist returned to the main theme, that interaction reveals a magical tapestry, in this case frost on a windowpane. There’s some rumination too about the origin of the magic tapestry—these “patterns.” To fully elaborate on the patterns, without going through a treatise quoted William James The Varieties of Religious Experience the essayist instead moves to another image, to explain this pattern’s hold on his youthful attention. The essayist moves with great aim and purpose to the “mandorla,” because in its explanation, next, it speaks directly of not only the experience of one with “The Other,” but also mimics the interaction of the reader with the essayist.
“As an adult I would hear of the ancient symbol, the mandorla, which is two over-lapping circles. The shape is highly valued by myriad cultures and refers to the union of opposites, such as heaven and earth, masculine and feminine, known and unknown. In my mind I cannot recall there being any such definitive mandorlas on my childhood’s wintery window, but perhaps was not my leaning into this magic and its wondrous response an over-lapping?” The essayist will bring this new image back around to the first instance of pattern that of the frost-covered window. Are they the same? No; but the one helps to elucidate the other and in doing so helps to establish the theme of the essay. It bears repeating: the mystery of faith as it involves the interaction of a curious mind. The essayist is speaking of faith being one thing and a human being as another. Interaction, the over-lapping of the essayist’s mind, and that of the spirit world, of faith, is being explored. But there’s need for a story again, and the essayist pulls another out of the old kit bag.
“Years later, in the book-lined study of a church pastor I’m told there are three, maybe four, meanings of the Greek work for love. The day was hot too, and hazy and very quiet. I forget now why I was in the pastor’s office seeking his counsel; it might have been bible-study, but there was only the two of us and it was mid-morning of a weekday. We’d read a passage from the Bible and he’d ask me what words or phrases resonated. I must have said something because he’d combed his Greek bible concordance to come up with “proseuchomai.” Writing this now, I’m able to go to my King James to find the verse: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” It’s Philippians 1:9-11. The word, proseuchomai, means to send out prayer, but the pastor says that the sending out of prayer is an act of love. Like a breath, inhaled, exhaled. This is when he tells me the Greeks have several words for love and that use of the word is a matter of context. Greek scholars too say the early myth writers, like Homer, used words that meant one thing today, but meant quiet another, in their original use. Like the word blue.” Ah, the anecdote. The anecdote is the essayist’s bread and butter, more so for the narrative essayist than the lyric essayist. The lyric essayist will use anecdote to plant the reader—and let’s be honest the writer too—back on terra firma. The story however is carefully chosen from thousands at the essayist’s disposal. This anecdote you will note, dear reader, contains biblical passages (to keep on the theme of faith), interaction (the sending out of prayer) and Greeks (the inclusion of which will become clearer as the reader progresses through the essay). There’s a little piece of music in this anecdote too, a single note that foreshadows a matter to be addressed fully later on. Now, back to our anecdote, this is told in one swoop, not interrupted as it is here.
“Later that same day I’d found myself by a small lake. I’d been trying to decipher my thoughts of love, of prayer, when the faces of old friends began to emerge. They came rushing back, one after another; I’d not seen most of them for several years. It was as if we’d all stopped what we were doing, heard something, when the noise of the world ceased ever so briefly, and in the ensuing silence thought of one another. Proseuchomai. I stood by the lake; my eyes closed and heard the water lapping. When I opened my eyes I noticed a dusky heron rising, its blue twin rising, gliding through the silver-tinged ripples. Where did it go? Which of two landed, safely, softly, into my memory?” The essayist continued to address the chief themes here with interaction, the over-lapping, the color blue and twinning: unknown to known, real heron to shadow, light and shadow mingle. See? But the fear for the essayist is that at this point, a reader might be feeling rather inundated with the same images and that the essay itself is being bogged down with this repetition. In cases such as this, the lyric essayist moved on to another collage piece, and enters the brain of the reader.
“At the center of the brain is an almond shaped section of grey matter, traversing both hemispheres, called the amygdala—it is the locus of processing fear and emotion. It is oscillates a throbbing pain in my head as I search and search, but do not find the home repair manual I so desperately need. Of course I will find it later, but that’s another story.” To the reader this reference might seem a tad odd or esoteric and they would be right. It’s designed to jar the reader out of the anecdote (a movement in, a personal story) and out into a larger canvas (in this case out to the field of science, and brain matter). The essayist used amygdala primarily because its shape—that closely resembling a mandorla. But the reader is asked not to stay long out there in the field of science, but to come in again into the personal. This began with “in my head…” The lyric essay moves this way: In and Out; In and Out; stepping through the essay waters as if positioned stepping stones. There is the rock in the river for the crossing.
“Long distance I receive instructions from my father, who I never call father in any other situation than in prose. I call him Dad, Daddy Sir jokingly; my Cyber Daddy euphemistically. Abba. I call him because I have an electrical situation on my hands—the outdoor light isn’t working. It was, now it doesn’t. I know that I will have to take the plate off the exterior wall and look at the wiring, but aside from that I’m at a loss. I can’t stop thinking about electrocution. I make sure the switch inside is turned off (flipped down actually).
Over the phone he instructs me to take all the white wires leading from the back of the light to the white wires exited the house from the metal box inserted into the wall. Dad tells me to take all the black wires leading from the back of the light to the black wires exited the house from the metal box inserted into the wall. I am to fasten the fine, filaments of copper threading out from the wires together and twist on a cap. I do this for both and have light. I must do this very methodically and without distraction.
Later, walking through the garage the home repair manual stands out from its position near the toolbox as if saying; when you are desperate you never find what you are looking for. In the garage, hot from exertion, I drift back in and out of over-lapping time…” A simple story serves the essayist well. This one includes references to God, interaction, light, and instruction, much in keeping with the essay’s purpose, to examine the mystery of faith and the curious mind. Now, the reader can hardly blame the lyric essayist for being, well, lyrical. Thus, a lyric essayist will at times burst into song.
“Three spheres modulating mandorlas once commingled form a circumference without end—without time, without place, without person; quivering three signs of mysticism to the body, to the soul and to the intellect shudder; from a father, to a son, the lingering hungry ghost; this triune; my past, my present and my future oriflamme unfurling scrolls, etched with the alphabet of grace—beseeking:
‘…a lasting will of the soul, coming from grace, by which it is oned and fastened into the will of our Lord by the sweet, silent workings of the Holy Spirit,” the anchorite says.’” The song introduces a new part of the essay, which might be entitled the role model section. This is the part of the essay, where the writer refers to others in similar circumstances—sometimes the comparison is a real stretch. The essayist first introduces this new part by using a fairly archaic word—“beseeking.” This allows the essayist, because the writer has warned the reader, to enter into a new period of time. To visit someone who would use such a word. Thus enters Julian of Norwich.
“Stiff-armed by the arcane Ancrene Riwle, Julian of Norwich…” Let’s stop right there. Sometimes the essayist is too in love with words that sound pretty forgets that the words must also offer information. A few readers will simply stop at words like Ancrene and or Riwle, because they’re not written in English. But the essayist does want the reader to know that the writer is a learned person; the essayist had to look this information up, why can’t the reader? It’s a choice the lyric essayist makes. It’s a bit of, “if you live by the sword, you die by the sword,” thing. Back to Julian… which is also a problem given that some readers will not have the foggiest idea who Julian of Norwich is and will have to drop the essay to Google the name. Some essayists feel this is only just. This essayist is, ultimately, about searching.
“…kept her eyes downcast avoiding the windows, and the talkative. Her senses could usher in Iscariot’s dark side. She was shifting from bios to Zoë; Julian was switching to glide. Mendicants came for guidance. She sent them away for take-out. The anchorite prayed and kept solitude and beginning surely on May 8th 1373 all her prayers trembled under her feet, drowned her corpus with light; invigorated her soul with vibrating string and stoked her nascent intellect. Answers came in showings, or revelations. They came until there were sixteen and it would take two decades to decipher the enigmatic and seemingly prosaic. They were revelations of love.” A lot of information here and not all of it plainly wrought. Essentially the lyric essayist attempts to relay information, but at the same time have it sung sweetly. Again, the reference is to serve as role model. Julian here is a person who is seeking the mystery of faith, she is curious, she like the essayist worried about the way of temptation and flesh. The essayist hopes the role model will be a good reflection, but if not, returns to back away from the focused attention to write a section that is prosaic, if not still imaginative.
“Before we are born God whispers the story of our life. We live one life trying to recall this one story. But why whisper? Plain and audible speaking gets many a person their wants. But for God, anything vocalization over a whisper is a deafening baritone. The ear’s dulcimer is newly plucked and could not withstand the mighty tug of God’s voice.
God whispers out story because He loves us. It is a whisper of encouragement; of tradition, but mostly of love. Before we are born we are so small, little more than a speck of light, energy. We are the tiniest of vibration, which increases as we come to be born. But God’s whisper is a vibration too and it goes inside us. It goes inside our own energy, into the way it moves and reacts, the way it waves and forms things like fingers, bone, eyes. It is our music, the da-dum of our newly formed heart, the pulse of this new blood coursing; the instructions to grow an inch; the letters in DNA.
When we are born many of us say our stories in great excitement, but it is in a language few can understand, a language so ancient, yet brittle, that even those who awaken speaking it by midday cannot recall with any clarity a letter in its lexicon. So throughout our lives in ways as varied as there are people we search, beseke, for these letters; the way to speak of our story; to speak in syllables of grace once whispered into our ear by God before we were born.
There are numerous times in our lives when we vibrate with such harmony that the calling we throw out is responded to. But the response is not always heard or interpreted in the correct way. God knows this and so makes several attempts to reconnect, to respond, to reveal.
But why doesn’t God just whisper in our ear again, just tell us the story. He has. He does. This is the mystery of our lives.
There is a constant flow of showings and God the mover; God is a verb in so many ways. Yet stories flow like so much Sturm and Drang and we are incapable of translating the cacophony. In this, we hear the stories of others, if only partially amid the static and noisome bleats. We hear our own too, but fail to recognize it. But amazingly it is the same story but we come to it; either in the middle, the beginning or its end and this nonlinear narrative does little to allow us dead reckoning. We end up facing the wrong way.
And perhaps because each of our stories is so precious God doesn’t entrust the duty of its relay to a few individuals, but gives everyone you meet a little piece of it. We carry in ourselves the part of a story we need to share with someone else. But the identity of this person isn’t revealed because then we’d come to judge some of being more important than others.
And that’s probably not part of the story.” That’s a long section with a few moments where the lyric essayist cannot control the innate urge to use language as music. Sturm and Drang being the chief criminals here. But their use is not only musical it helps to again return to theme, of seeking and response, of being urged in the storm of daily life; the words refer to a subjectivity of experience. In the maelstrom, however, there is always music for the lyric essayist.
“Disjointed letters in the wake of the Muhammad’s testimony; the Aramaic code: Hidden stories in the desert, in clay pots, in caves; stories by revelation, by contemplation and example. The sojourner finds these things sitting in coffee shops alone, the world around them abuzz, when they are beseeking. They are the beseke. It is a new word perhaps as important as Shibboleth.” A piece of music, then, intertwined with references to religious texts and the stories they impart, and where texts have been discovered or left for others to find. This section allows the essayist to speak of faith’s text being encountered out in the world where the seekers walk. A personal anecdote follows to deepen this tenet.
“There is always a sense of adventure, a thrill in the back of my throat, and opening up in the chest, when I am lost. It’s not the kind of lost where the elements or a lack of food could result in dire circumstances; it is a lost looking to be found.” In order to draw in a greater understanding from readers, the essayist, regardless of need for lyricism, still seeks to generate empathy and therefore in this endeavor will enlist the exemplification of a main point, by using the old saw: others are doing it too! But the essayist carefully chooses the endeavor and in this case chooses to highlight an enterprise that mimics the sojourn of gyrovagues and other seekers—a journey that means more than the destination.
“There is a new art form like this called psychogeography. Its aim is discovery. Its mode is to wander without destination in mind. Some equip themselves with some orientating scheme, algorithmic divining, to chart their footsteps, their way through the urban landscape, others simply go and when desire strikes them, they turn and go forward in a new direction.” The reader surely can see the correlation between the essayist and this example, especially drawing upon how some equip themselves (spiritual teachings) with algorithmic diving (prayers and biblical assistance) to guide them along their way. When the essayist says this, there in this little anecdote, or example, comes a shift, from the general to the specific; the essayist writes, “I try this from time to time, going place without seeking places; I do this without equations or worry. My chest is open, my throat filled with light; I am without burden. This is for me the sense of thrill, when that sense of being alive is the greatest—when there is the possibility of finding is the greatest. We are yearning animals. My prowl takes me down urban neighborhoods with thoughts of all the possibilities, the manifold ways, our lives can unfold. They all present themselves and I delight in this. We all share the same consciousness. We are all connected. As I pass them, they pass me and we in a brief recognition light the dark passage of time. Not at all aimless after all, the aim being to recapture the wonderment of a child who sees in everything, possibility; sees in everything the fingerprints of God.” By the end of this ramble there is a specific location—a mention of God, which the reader will remember is the main thesis of this lyric essay, to search for God and respond accordingly. For this type of essayist, however, there must be a reiteration that all is not surface, that there is much of the interior to contemplate. So the reader is asked inside.
“As I go the field of energy that amasses and disperses in specks and waves undulates into the familiar and the strange. Down one seemingly deserted street I stumble upon children, shimmering, playing, and play-acting a public execution. They cannot see me. Someone is suffering here. There is blood, thorns and sudden wind. In this amassing and dispersing, I get out of my car and stand in the middle of the street, shocked, and saddened, and enraptured.” The scene is deliberately ephemeral, for it is not there at all, but what is there is “shimmering” and beautiful to the viewer, a belief that down any street a reader can find an answer, as to who would save a wretch like the essayist. Who would give up their body?
“Take and eat of this.
I reach out and before me the trees on the deserted street move, all speck and waves, murmuring storm and urge, a sparkling array startling Starlings and Wrens alight, my heart a flutter of soft wings, now in the summer afternoon…falling to my knees.” The essayist is saying the images before are not real, what is real is what is left behind—the humble tumble to the knees, the incredible mercy honored by prayer.
“A man found. “…the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of pure being,” I hear Carl Jung say, but know it’s God’s raspy reminder riding moats of dust.” The essayist plays with the light of the apparition, returning to one of the constant themes of the essay itself all the while illuminating more on the over-lapping of opposites and the journey toward self. If the instance of finding something holy on any street is viewed as too insular, the essayist turns to others for support, to say, see, others have done very much the same thing.
“Julian of Norwich sought such a scene. She wanted to be one of the few to witness the horror, passion of Calvary—to be so close as to taste the iron nails driven through the skin, bone bearing rivulets of blood into the dust and dirt—on her tongue. Take and…
She sought sickness to bring her to God’s door.
But mostly, perpetually, she desired the three wounds all beseekers, all scroll scribes and deliverers yearn for: contrition, compassion and longing.” The essayist ends with this longing, and as Julian wrote of her revelations, the essayists indicates that an accounting goes on, in a new form, in such a way that perhaps readers will begin to look at little scraps of paper in a new and exciting way.
“I write this on a tiny scroll and leave it in the coffee shop for another to find, someone lost and feeling the world is so beautiful that they could stumble down the street and come upon, quite by accident, the passion of our incarnation. Perhaps this person, that one, the one who feels in their throat a thrill of swallowing nails, will smile and cast about for ways of sharing. Take. And eat.
It is interaction we all seek and crave. I am because you are. I particularly enjoy this in the late hours of a coffee house’s hours of operation, when it is dark outside, but warmly lit inside. Students stare into blue-white glowing notebook computer screens. Groups of people discuss issues or their lives. A lone coffee drinker nods over their brew. Outside, people smoke and talk over coffee. The night is completely withdrawn of sunlight. Darkness reigns. But we’re all these portals of light—of cursing the darkness, keeping it at bay. For we are ephemeral and highly extinguishable—the flicker from the wick; the candle in the window, in the wind, but first we must be lit. Physics tells us nothing exists outside of interaction, that only by interaction from the crashing together of subatomic matter to bodies in motion at higher, more visible, levels, does the world come into being. Light we are told does not exist independent of its observer. Light has no properties of its own, but rather the interference (interaction or interpretation) is constituted with properties. This interaction with light is comprised of waves and particles, complimentarily co-existing paradoxically for us. If my energy did not go forth, striking whatever is in its sight, it would not be there at all.” The passages above continue to examine duality; to mull over the mystery of faith in profane times; to look at the world through the eyes of the sacred and to make suggestions as to how the mundane can be simply miraculous. Again, if the reader was left with only the essayist’s thoughts on the matter, there might be the slightest confusion that what is written is utter madness. So, the essayist introduces a historical figure, but not just any historical figure. A blind man—but why?
“Argentine fabulist Jorge Luis Borges speaking on metaphor says there is an almost infinite supply of ways of highlighting the unfamiliar by way of the familiar—metaphor’s raison d’être. Writers take something that is familiar, concrete and readily available to the reader, say a rose, to speak of something that is abstract or unfamiliar; or if the particular reference is personal, say a particular woman, a comparison is made to allow for a universal interaction with this character. Ruth is like a perfect spring rose. We can all picture a rose, any rose, but few of us, if only the writer, can picture the particular Ruth, for example, if not for the metaphor. The inventory of those things to which writers can make the abstract or unfamiliar, concrete is inexhaustible. He actually attempts to calculate the opportunities by firstly interpreting the world as being constituted of “ten thousand things,” a term he attributes to the Chinese. “If we accept the number ten thousand, and if we think that all metaphors are made by linking two different things together, then, had we time enough, we might work out an almost unbelievable sum of possible metaphors.” Borges goes on to say that the possibilities are not endless, but mind-blowing.
In 1955, Borges was appointed director of the National Library in Argentina. By this time Borges, who was born terribly nearsighted and would undergo eight operations to correct his failing vision, was going completely blind; interestingly two of the previous directors of the National Library had also been blind. He took it as stoically and gently as possible: “I speak of God’s splendid irony in granting me at one time 800,000 books and darkness.” Kindle.
Kindle.” The entirety of this essay could be found in those proceeding paragraphs—someone blind seeing without sight; a writer of fables that are so mysterious and beautiful people still read them today and marvel at their ingenuity; but most importantly is the discussion of metaphor. Metaphor is the engine that takes the unfamiliar and makes it familiar. The essay, this essay, is little else. But the lyric essay must insist on music, and so we return to the Greek origins, with a reference to another blinded soothsayer.
“For they took Poseidon’s eyes; looters salvaged those gems eons ago before the god of the sea was dunked into the Aegean. For the Greeks do not know blue, but instead degrees of darkness. When they stole his eyes, it was darkness they sought, a darkness befitting a god of the sea who’d not told them what to do with utter certainty. Dark pools, not seeing today when the bust of Poseidon greets you at the Museum of Natural History in Athens. He and Homer, singing muses down from their stations, swaying and singing Odysseus home; singing Tiresias through the surly underworld; chanting through the ages of lapis lazuli and change, through the furrows of our marrow a whispering from Matthew the Saint, scroll scribe of Yahweh: “The light of the body is the eye: If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” The essayist brings the reader back to not only a discussion of Greeks, but sight, and where the source of sight and light originate. In this return, the essayist is then readied the reader for another return, a return to the beginning of the essay.
“When I innocently placed my hand on the cold windowpane I cried just a little. The ice thawed, and the outside world, once veiled in tiny filaments of frost wrought by winter, became all the clearer. I knew later that the wonder would return to my windowpane. But that first time—oh the loss; I left the house and went into the neighborhood to play, to wander, to be lost, to be found. My breath on the cold air, a cloud trailing me, inhaled, exhaled. I fell to my knees and made snow angels in the fields near my house. Until Abba calls me home before it gets too dark.”
Ah, you see. There are times when we can see the order of the universe, the way of God, as plainly as fancy frost on our windowpanes, and there are times, when we are so close we cannot see it, that it fades or melts from view and yet, we know, deep inside ourselves, that it runs through everything—this majesty, this incredible mercy. It humbles the reader as it humbles us all. We fall to our knees in awe, as a child would.
But then, really, one can’t be too sure. I am not the essayist.
Excerpt from The Dale Meme
This is about an onion and a goat.
Aging is natural and not at all relative; the latter term is used by anyone over the age of twenty to rationalize sleeping with someone half their age. At my age the phrase is used with great abandon in advertising, anecdotes and when convincing oneself it’s okay to shop for clothes at American Eagle. At my age, not young, but not yet old I feel I’m beyond lying to myself. But of course I can’t be too sure. My insouciant attitude toward my own truthfulness is probably cloaked dishonesty, although I don’t quite know what I might want to hide. Perhaps that is my problem. Ah the melancholy of everything completed, naturally.
I always liked the image of an onion. You know you’re life is like an onion, peel its layers away and all your left with is bitter tears. I put that in a poem once when I was thirteen – I know exactly what you’re thinking: What does a thirteen-year-old know about life. So now I think of the onion as the past peeled of skin until there is little left but tears, but tears do not come now because I have broken bread and placed it in my mouth. It’s one of things grandmothers and mothers tell their sons – When you’re cutting onions, clamp down on a piece of bread so that the loaf sticks out of your mouth. It absorbs the wafting onion fumes.
Nouns and Verbs
The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular, said Fyodor Dostoevsky. It’s a sentiment hard to express without sounding pretentious. Even the writer’s name is enough to send some people through a self-esteem checklist. The demands of people, those who envy you, in particular, are such that you are forced into lying to them in order to protect them further discomfort and allow you to get back to your latte. And apparently, it’s never enough to share the sentiment; you must defend it thus illustrating the very principle at its heart. It’s all nouns and verbs, and which ones it hardly matters, when all the person wants to hear is that it’s not about them.
Revise and Rewrite
The onion isn’t the past, it’s redemption. Wait, no not redemption it’s the world’s oldest antique.
The onion is redemption.
When I was all of seven my Irish great-grandmother took me aside and told me a story about a dream she had. We sat in one of those window boxes overlooking the Grass Market in Edinburgh. She was frail and very old. She spoke in a whisper. She said in the dream she grew onions. In the dream my grandmother said she wasn’t well liked, and she got the impression she didn’t like anyone else either, so it was mutual. She never did a kind thing in her life, the life in the dream, until a beggar came by and she gave him an onion. She was done. My great-grandmother wanted to know if I knew what the dream was about. I know what you’re thinking: What does a seven-year-old know about dreams? I shook my head and held her hand. We looked out the window. Going rain, she said, it’s going rain.
Syphilis is the sweetest sounding word in the English language, a high school English teacher once told me and my classmates. It’s the Ss and the gentle P. It’s so beautiful you’d love to call your daughter that, Syphilis and her date Sisyphus. But, we clamored, it’s a disease. That’s okay, there’s a board game called Life, You Deserve a Break Today and Jesus Is Magic.
At a very early age I was certain I was being observed. I was being studied, I thought, by people in white lab coats with clipboards hiding behind two-way mirrors and other concealed see-thru screens. My life was one gigantic experiment. Everything was being noted and recorded. When I was six, my first girlfriend, Yvette told me it was true. She then gave me a handful of sequins and told me they were magic. Any answer I gave on the math test we were about to take would be correct, if I held the sequins tight in my fist and thought about it. And it worked! The answers came to me in a flash. A week later when I got the math test back and found most of the answers had a giant red X marked beside them I began my lifelong unease with mathematics and it instilled in me an understanding that everyone’s in on the observation by the white lab coats, even little redhead Yvette.
My mother was thirty-three when she had me. I’m the baby of the family. I get what whatever I want even the prize inside the cereal box because I’m the baby. Even though I am now the age of parenthood myself, I am still the baby and still find after all this time enjoying the feeling of digging a fist into Fruit Loops for decals and plastic super-secret decoder rings.
One of the things I remember most about my brother is that he didn’t like small talk. It drove him crazy the way people wasted their lives talking about the most innate things. Why this sticks in my mind now almost five years after his death mystifies me. He tried suicide twice and only on the second try was he successful. That, that I can understand, but small talk and pleasantries; I’m with my bro on that one – anecdotes and gossip and breezy manners it’s enough to make you sick.
There’s a story in the Bible about some villagers and a goat. I’m not going to look it up for you and have the chapter and verse here to quote. Look it up yourself. But as the story goes, the people are worried and scared and they don’t know what to do with their woe. So they get a goat and loaded all their concerns into packs and set the animal free to wander in the wilderness. By letting the goat go, the villagers were free of their worry and their fright.
Do Not Explain Too Much
If for some reason I would have to evaluate myself I am sure that I would do so without shame or concern for my reputation. But If should be asked to express an opinion about someone else, I would be considerably more cautious. There is a danger there, passing judgment. I would exaggerate, explain too much, and provide erroneous information. I would probably lie. So rather than commit these sings, I remain silent and away from most people.
This has meant that I find myself largely alone. This isn’t something to be upset about, it’s a statement of truth and in a lot of ways it’s what I prefer. All I ask of life is to be left alone and to have a chance to do the things I like to do, however superficial they may appear or when silly and overdone when read.